(cross posted at www.noellecampbell.com)
Here is what I don't get:
People will mock and ridicule women for reading romance novels and lets face it, a man would be run out of town for admitting to reading romance. I myself have been guilty of this. I don't think I read any Romance regularly until I was introduced to Julia Quinn. If I agree that some romance is pretty shallow, most are somewhat formulaic, there is a huge and obvious double standard going on among literature critics that I can point out very easily with one genre and one name: Fantasy Fiction/George RR Martin.
If you think the formula of a romance novel is bad, you should be gagging at the copious amounts of "cock" and "cunt" you see in "Song of Fire and Ice" by people who apparently have no religious system, religious leaders, stern mothers or even disapproving Paladins (which would necessitate a God, I suppose) at all. Ever. This world is completely without the foundations so vital to Western Civilization.
You could excuse the Greeks their womanizing given their mythology and the well known proclivities of the King of the Gods, but if you think Romance Novels give women unrealistic expectations of real relationships, you should be insisting that the world in Fire and Ice show the lowest expectations of the male half of the species available of relationships with rape, attempted rape, incest, and the treatment of disabled and special needs people the norm. At least the rogues in Romance Novels get 'reformed.'
If at the same time you claim this is 'realism' so more valid in today's world then men should be outraged at the level of lechery, deceit, brutality and debauchery that is expected from them by this well known fantasy author and the thousands of people that read him. Aragorn stayed true to Arwen, even though he could have had Eowyn and let her die in the battle before the Gates of Gondor. Maybe Tolkien would have balanced that that, but today's crowd certainly wouldn't have thought it wrong, or that Aragorn was less than a man for letting Eowyn feel like he loved her while pining for another woman. Surely Tolkien knew men who did this sort of thing in the war. Romanced an Italian, German, African while still writing the wife/girlfriend at home. But he didn't write his story that way because… well…Is that what we want from fantasy? Realism?
As for a historical realism, take a step back and look at the genre you are reading. This isn't realistic at all. Song of Fire and Ice isn't a portrayal of the everyday life, everyday men, or everyday women. It's fantasy. We expect it to be unreal. This fantasy doesn't say it's "historical fantasy" like Historical Romance, which is actually based in history and portrays actual elements of history.
For "reality" we turn to history and biography. As long as you are going to include dragons, magic creatures, and a system of government largely dependent on these items and a great deal of wishful thinking and imagination (there's no way *someone* wouldn't have killed Tyrion before he became an adult or relegated him to an existence of ridicule in a 'realistic' family like Lannister in any time period similar to feudal Europe), you have to agree that Romance Novels are comparable–compatible– literature or consider yourself a hypocrite.
If we can agree that entertainment is the point of fiction, then you have to give kudos to the people who write novels that millions of women want to read AND that millions of men want to read. If dark, gritty fantasy is your thing, so be it, but leave the girls their space too and if you can't say something nice about the authors of Romance (who have studied as much classical/Victorian/dark age history as George RR Martin and actually USE it IN CONTEXT of their story), then don't say anything at all.